Know When to Use Verified Audiences for Media Targeting

By Todd McClimans
Product Manager, IRI Audiences
Media Center of Excellence

With hundreds of data providers and thousands of different audiences in the marketplace, media planners have a very formidable task in determining what combination of targets will deliver the best sales lift for advertising campaigns. Although new audience types and an ever-increasing number of data sources have dramatically improved campaign relevance and effectiveness, they’ve also further muddied the waters.

Planners have traditionally relied on demographic, contextual, and behavioral targeting to reach households based on their census, website visitation and other behavioral data. The emergence of purchase-based audiences means planners can now target consumers based on in-store shopping behavior, usually in the form of propensity models. One hundred percent deterministic or “verified” purchase-based audiences have started to appear in the marketplace over the past few years , allowing planners to create entire audiences based on longitudinal purchase behavior collected from loyalty card data.

Verified audiences introduce an exciting, but challenging wrinkle into targeting strategy. On one hand, verified audiences open up a whole new world of highly customizable and hyper-relevant purchase-based audiences that have the potential to significantly reduce ad dollar waste. On the other hand, verified audiences rarely have the scale to drive an entire campaign and often carry a higher price tag than traditional tactics. As a result, media planners are struggling with the value of impressing a group of actual category or brand buyers versus the high-reach blast approach that has been used with varying degrees of success for years. Media planners and agencies consistently ask “Do verified audiences work?” and “Are they worth it?”

The skepticism is fair but the opportunity tremendous. I have been working with verified audiences for years and have measured hundreds of media campaigns over that time, pitting the impact of traditional “shotgun” targeting against deterministic purchase-based targeting. The findings are strong: verified audiences consistently drive three to four times more incremental offline sales compared to other targeting tactics. This is a powerful and proven statistic. Verified audiences work and they work well. Of course, these results did not happen in a vacuum, and many factors can influence the success of an audience. Verified audiences are not always successful and, in fact, are not the right audience choice for every campaign. When asked the questions above, I encourage media planners to consider a few key factors that will help determine whether verified audiences are the right choice: campaign objective, success measures and audience source.

Clearly Define Your Campaign Objective

Are you trying to convert category buyers to your brand? Are you trying to build general awareness and goodwill? Or perhaps both? Verified audiences are most effective at driving brand penetration and buy rate within a category. Targeting actual buyers, whether heavy category buyers or buyers of competitive brands, enables you to reach households who are already engaged in the category and have a higher likelihood of interacting with your media and converting to your brand. Focusing impressions and building frequency against existing buyers can help reduce wasted spend on households who have little to no chance of converting. This is verified audiences’ bread and butter. If you are trying to reach more households than currently buy the category or reach every household that shops a retailer, there are more cost-efficient tactics than verified audiences. If you are aiming to maximize reach and drive strong conversion, I recommend supplementing verified audiences with a purchase-based modeled audience. This allows you to proverbially have your cake and eat it, too.

Determine Specific Success Metrics

How are you measuring your campaign’s success? Are you measuring against total impressions/views, click-throughs, incremental offline revenue, or return on ad spend (i.e., incremental offline sales divided by media spend)? If you are aiming to drive offline revenue or return on ad spend, verified audiences are a superb tactic, as they are built on offline purchase behavior. Past purchase behavior is the strongest known predictor of future purchase behavior. Verified audiences can significantly reduce the reach needed to drive incremental lift by targeting households that have actually purchased the featured product or similar products. More often than not, the savings far exceed any incremental upfront cost of leveraging verified audiences, resulting in higher return. If offline impact isn’t in your scorecard, and you are instead measuring against total impressions or other online stats, contextual or online behavioral audiences might be a better route.

What Is Your Audience Source?

Verified audiences are only as good as their underlying data. The quality of the audience you are leveraging is critical to its effectiveness. A few quick questions can help you identify whether you are receiving high-quality verified audiences from your data provider:

  • What percent of the audience is deterministic vs. modeled?
  • Where is the data sourced?
  • Is the data collected passively?
  • Is the data nationally representative?
  • How often is the data refreshed?

These questions ensure that the data underlying your audience is accurate, representative and relevant. Audiences should be 100% deterministic, sourced from reputable retailers or data consortiums, collected passively (i.e., through card, not self- reported), nationally representative and refreshed at least bi-weekly. If your provider responds with anything different, the quality of the audience may be compromised and not perform as effectively as it could or should.

So, back to the original questions “Do verified audiences work” and “ Are they worth it?”, I’ve seen firsthand the potential of verified audiences when executed in the right context, and they are proven to drive better lift and return than any other targeting tactic in the marketplace. Make sure to take the time to align your targeting with your objectives and success measures, and high-quality verified audiences can pay big dividends.

For any audience-related questions, please reach out to me at

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